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For others, battle was a means rather than an end, in this case to tighten the blockade.

How Black Soldiers Helped Britain in First World War

Even more uncertain than the relationship between battle and blockade was what economic warfare itself meant. In the trade division of the Naval Intelligence Division was dismantled. The Declaration of London raised the question as to what Britain could legitimately stop. Food was contraband if it was to be supplied to the army but not if it was for civilian consumption. Munitions of war were contraband, but little specific thought had been given to how to target them.

Their vision of economic war predicted chaos on the stock exchanges, the collapse of capitalism, and revolution. In Planning Armageddon , Nicholas Lambert has extracted this strand of blockade thinking to argue, selectively, that the navy had a coherent plan for a quick victory from which the British government resiled almost the moment the war broke out.

It did not. From Hankey sought to impose order on these disparate ideas by preparing a War Book, setting out the legal and financial measures required of government departments to put economic warfare in place, stop German trade, and blockade the neutral ports serving Germany. Hankey expected blockade to presage a long war, and he did not see it as the path to a quick victory or as an alternative to amphibious operations and the despatch of the army overseas.

If the navy was a weapon intended for use against a European opponent, and an instrument of deterrence, the army was optimised to secure the British Empire. A regular, professional, and long-service force, its structure was very different from that of its European peers.

In Europe, armies were conscripted and tripled in size on mobilisation to become mass armies of almost 3 million men. The total strength of the British army on 1 August was , men. Barely a third of them, fewer than ,, were regulars, of whom almost half were then serving overseas, predominantly in India, and so were not immediately available. The balance was made up of various types of reserve, but only , were in the army reserve, ex-regulars who were liable for immediate call-up in the event of war. Britain was slow to create a general staff, the body which in other armies devoted its energies to planning.

Liberals objected that, if it existed, a general staff would look for a European war. They were right: when it was created in , it set about reviewing its options in the event of major war. The army may have done its fighting in the colonies, but intellectually it matched itself against the French and the Germans, studying continental conflicts to learn lessons. However, the question remains: when, if ever, did the momentum of this planning begin to affect policy?


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The core challenge was a long-standing one: the defence of India against a Russian invasion via Afghanistan or in response to domestic insurrection the mutiny of the Indian army in still cast a long shadow , given lesser but numerous commitments elsewhere. In reality the threat to India, if it existed, receded even further after the Anglo-Russian entente in The BEF itself was designed for imperial defence, not European war, and was thought more likely to fight Russia than Germany. A force of six divisions, neither its structure nor its size matched the standards for continental war.

It had no corps headquarters the all-arms higher command in European armies , having to create them from scratch in It was short of heavy artillery.

The Lads of World War One: The British Tommy’s War Experience in 26 Photos

When it went to France in it initially took only four of its six divisions and so mustered less than , men. Nor did it have much of a reserve, although almost half of its strength on mobilisation was made up of time-expired regulars who were recalled from civilian life. From , the National Service League lobbied for the introduction of conscription, but only for home defence.

By July it had failed to recruit to its establishment of ,, and only five complete units had made themselves available for service outside Britain. The Anglo-French entente resolved outstanding colonial issues more than it set out to create a common front to face Germany. In Germany put pressure on this understanding by engineering a crisis over French intervention in Morocco, but rather than fracture the entente hardened and acquired a European focus. In the winter of Britain and France initiated staff talks which continued until May Although Grey fully supported them, he insisted they must not compromise British neutrality.

For Haldane in his memoirs, and for the first generation of historians, this was the moment when a continental commitment was forged and British military planning began to prioritise fighting alongside France against Germany. However, he also reviewed six other options, including war with Russia and war in the colonies.

It required the appointment as DMO of Henry Wilson , a Francophile with good personal contacts to the French army, in August for the staff talks of to be given substance and continuity. As a result, more recent scholars, principally John Gooch and Edward Spiers, have selected as the point when the British army began planning for war against Germany and optimising the BEF for that task. In recognising the force of their argument, however, two points need to be stressed.

The first steps to mobilise for war were taken by the Royal Navy. On 26 July , the First Sea Lord prevented the dispersal of the fleet after exercises that month, so keeping reservists at their stations. He did so without cabinet approval but also without deepening the political crisis. On 29 July he mobilised the fleet but Alfred von Tirpitz decided that British actions were a bluff, and the German Admiralty Staff agreed. The army lagged behind the navy. Henry Wilson had planned on its mobilising at the same time as France, so that the BEF could be deployed simultaneously with the French army.

It did neither. On the same day a war council convened to decide where the BEF was to go. Available in the collection are cards, which include medal entitlement for the General Service Medal awarded to men who took part in operations on the North West Frontier in While exploring the World War One Medal Index Cards, you may discover that your ancestor had more than one regimental or soldier number.

A regimental number was far from unique. Most regiments issued regimental numbers from multiple series and if your ancestor was in the Territorial Force, you may find that he has two numbers: his original number and a new number, which would have been issued to him when the Territorial Force was re-numbered in Cookies on Findmypast: We use our own and third-party cookies to improve your experience, for advertising purposes, and to understand how people use our website.

That's fine Learn more. Share this on Facebook. Share this on Twitter. For five months the British and French armies fought the Germans in a brutal battle of attrition on a mile front. The aims of the battle were to relieve the French Army fighting at Verdun and to weaken the German Army. However, the Allies were unable to break through German lines. In total, there were over one million dead and wounded on all sides. The Allies bombarded German trenches for seven days and then sent , men over the top to attack the German lines. The day was a disaster for the British.

The Germans weathered the artillery fire in deep trenches and came up fighting. As the British soldiers advanced, they were mown down by machine gun and rifle fire. In total, 19, British soldiers lost their lives. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British army. However, the French had more success and inflicted big losses on German troops. In spite of heavy British losses, Douglas Haig, the British general, agreed to continue the attack.

British Army in the First World War

After the first day, where they captured three square miles of territory, the British attempted to press their advance. Over a two week period, the British made a series of small attacks on the German line, in preparation for another large-scale assault. On 4 July, British soldiers engaged in bloody hand-to-hand combat to take Mametz wood and nearby forests. Progress was slow and the British suffered another 25, casualties dead and wounded.

The Germans were under increasing pressure and were forced to redeploy guns and men from Verdun to reinforce their lines. Then the order came down, dump everything and fix bayonets, you have got to fight for it lads.

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Melvyn Bragg talks about the Pals battalions. Transcript PDF k.

Although the British press put a positive spin on the start of the "Big Push", the casualty lists told a different story. In the second week of July, lists of the dead and wounded began to appear in the papers. The 11th East Lancashire battalion was known as the Accrington Pals. Of the men who went into action on 1 July, became casualties.

Although they were still behind the war effort, people at home wore black arm bands to commemorate those who had lost their lives. As the sun rose, 22, British troops attacked. The Germans were taken by surprise. The British achieved an early victory advancing 6, yards into enemy territory and occupying Longueval village. Two regiments of the 2nd Indian Cavalry Division were sent into action.

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However they failed to take High Wood, which remained in German hands. Situated at the southern end of the British line, the dense woodland was a key Allied military objective.

A battle of attrition

On 15 July, 3, soldiers of the 1st South African brigade occupied the wood. The Germans unleashed fierce machine gun and artillery fire and launched a brutal series of counter-attacks. Terrible weather turned the wood into a muddy grave. Undaunted, the South Africans held on.


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